In my last area of my mission I got to know a particular member family fairly well. They were one of the few very active families in the ward (yes! a ward! the only one I had in my entire mission) and we could rely on them to always be at church and not have to worry about them getting offended because someone looked at them cross eyed and never coming back to church.
One day I decided that we should pass by their house. We had not seen them at church on Sunday so I had a brief thought to pass by and see how they were doing. At the time I thought I was just being lazy and we didn't have anything better to do so I thought, "Well we'll just go stop by to kill some time." Little did I know that our visit would help the family. When we got to their house we could tell that not everything was familial love and peace at home. There was yelling and much commotion. I wondered if we should just walk on by without stopping but we did stop and stood at the gate and clapped. No one immediately answered our call but soon some of the younger children (early teens to pre-teen) came out of the house. Let's just say that there were some uncharitable words exchanged in front of us quickly followed by some physical violence, immediately followed by extended yelling.
The children went back into the house, and we could hear some more commotion coming from the house including general punishments being given out by the mother. At this point one of the older children came out and with a rather embarrassed look on her face asked what we wanted. I told her that we were just stopping by to see how they were doing. She gave me an icy glare that said, "Can't you tell? What are you deaf and dumb (not mute)?" Trying to suppress a smile I asked with a slight hint of sarcasm in my voice if there were a more convenient time for us to stop by. Again she gave me an icy glare through her embarrassment and told us that we could stop by later that evening. I told her that we would and then said goodbye.
Later that evening we did return to a much more peaceful house and a few less embarrassed and icy glares. We sat down with the mother and her two oldest daughters (one of whom was the one who tried to burn me away with her icy glare). The mother was slightly embarrassed that we had to witness the "dysfunction" of her family. She told us that she tried so hard to make her children behave but they never seemed to listen to her. At this point I asked about their absence from church on Sunday and she said that it had rained very hard the day before (it had) and the roads were extremely muddy (they were) and they had overslept (church is at 9 am) so they didn't really have the motivation to get to church.
I also asked if they were having family scripture study and prayer. She said that they tried but the past two weeks they had been a little vago (lazy) about it. I asked about family home evening and again she said that they had not had it for two or three weeks and at this point one of the daughters stopped me and said, "And that is why we were fighting! We weren't doing any of those things!"
But her mother then said, "I try so hard to teach them to behave, and in the church we are taught to teach our children to behave but it seems like they never listen and they never learn! Don't you agree Elder? They are some of the worst behaved children at church! I thought that going to church and living the gospel would teach them to not fight and to behave but they can't learn anything! That is why we joined the church in the first place, but they can't behave! Don't you agree Elder!?! They just behave like savages!"
So here I was in a friendly predicament, on the one had I had to agree with the mother her kids were quite a rowdy bunch. On the other hand I had her two oldest daughters there (aged 21 and 18 I think) and I couldn't just readily agree with the mother that they were a bunch of savages with her daughters there with both of them looking like hungry wolves ready to pounce on me if I agreed with their mother's sentiment that they were a bunch of savages. So that is when I hit on a brilliant way out of this predicament.
I said, "If you think about how bad they behave now, just image how bad they would behave if you weren't a member of the church!"
The eldest daughter looked at me and laughed and said, "Ah! You are very intelligent Elder!"
I had successfully agreed with the mother while at the same time praising the children for being better than they could be. We all laughed and the mother commented about how it was true what I said. She said that they had let many of the things they normally do, such as family prayer and family home evening and because of that contention and animosity quickly entered their home.
The next Sunday they were all back at church, the kids were wiggly and noisy, but still reverent and they were all getting along and there was obvious love in their family. They were back into their routine of family prayer, scripture study and church attendance. The children weren't perfect but they were better than they could have been.
This is one of the experiences that taught me that the gospel does not make us better than other people, but it does make us better than ourselves.